Highlands Launches Indigenous Knowledge Center


Las Vegas, N.M. – More Indigenous students will graduate from Highlands University prepared for social work careers thanks to the university’s new Indigenous Knowledge Center.

The university’s School of Social Work launched the center in October with emphasis on recruiting more indigenous students and honoring their culture.

“Our mission is to strive to value, cultivate and promote indigenous ways of knowing, while also providing enriching diverse academic learning experiences and engaging students in rigorous scholarship and research,” said Rebecca Maldonado Moore, the Indigenous Knowledge Center coordinator. “Initially, the center will focus on students from the regional tribes of the New Mexico pueblos, the Four Corners tribes of the Navajo and Southern Ute, and the Mescalero Apache from southern New Mexico.”

While the Indigenous Knowledge Center will be based at the main Highlands campus in Las Vegas, it will be connected to the university’s statewide centers through onsite faculty as well as online course delivery.

Moore said a steering committee from the main campus, as well as the centers in Albuquerque and Farmington, are contributing to the design and delivery of goals and activities for the center.

Moore is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho tribe from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. She earned her Ph.D. from Cornell University in policy, analysis and management.

“The Northern Arapaho are a plains people. Northern New Mexico, southern Colorado and western Oklahoma were our ancestral territories before we were relocated to Wyoming. I believe I was called home to develop this Indigenous Knowledge Center at Highlands,” Moore said.

Moore said the center offers indigenous students much more than coming to Highlands for a quality education.

“An important benefit of the center is that it affirms to our indigenous students their value and identity. The center will help them feel like they have an extended family, which is very important in indigenous cultures,” Moore said.

In addition, Moore said service learning and community development are integral to the new indigenous concentration in social work.

“Students will have opportunities to develop meaningful service learning projects at their assigned social work field practicums that are related to civic engagement. Community development is aimed at positive social change. The students and faculty will work with community organizations that provide services to indigenous people,” Moore said.

The center’s first new course offering spring semester 2016 is focused on tribal and U.S. child and family welfare. Other courses being developed include titles such as contemporary issues in indigenous America and community based participatory research.

Moore said Andrew Israel, interim dean of the School of Social Work, and Teresita Aguilar, provost and vice president for academic affairs, played key leadership roles in establishing the Indigenous Knowledge Center.

Israel said: “This center offers an exciting opportunity for our students to participate directly in responding to major social issues such as health and mental health that affect indigenous populations in high numbers. For example, we are completing a grant application for funding to support enhanced training in substance abuse and alcohol treatment.”

Israel said the Indigenous Knowledge Center will serve as a think tank for Native American scholars to teach and perform relevant research.

“Another vital element of this center is that we’re adopting a multidisciplinary format so that we share knowledge about indigenous peoples with our colleagues in other disciplines at Highlands. We’ve also established a multidisciplinary faculty advisory council for the center,” Israel said.

He said Highlands is very fortunate to have Moore join the faculty to teach and coordinate the center.

“Dr. Moore has tremendous heart combined with exceptional academic credentials. She brings broad knowledge of curriculum development and educational programs that support multidisciplinary collaboration in the allied health professions,” Israel said.

Before joining the Highlands faculty fall semester 2015, Moore was a professor at Tennessee State University and adjunct faculty with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She earned a Master of Social Work from the University of Utah.

Moore is not new to New Mexico and its American Indian cultures. Earlier in her career, she was the Indian Education director for Santa Fe Public Schools and an educational specialist for the New Mexico Indian Association.

She co-authored the textbook Indian Perspectives in New Mexico History, among other books, and is  widely published in scholarly journals such as the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work and Journal of Social Work End-of-Life Palliative Care.

In 2014, the National Association of Social Workers named Moore the Tennessee Social Worker of the Year.